Monday, February 12, 2007

Designing and building a Little House

My husband, J, wants us to ideally build our own home rather than try to renovate an existing structure. With his background in homebuilding, he knows how to build a really great house. He would like it to be nearly indestructible, safe, well-designed as far as efficient placement of plumbing and structural thingies, and powered with alternative power sources. He likes comfort and practicality...and $$ efficiency. He has great ideas, and it always amazes me that God put us together...we have so much fun discussing and planning, even when we butt heads over the details sometimes :)

My goal is for us to build very economically and to build to suit us rather than for resale. Our cottage is going to have to be aesthetically pleasing, even if it's very simplified. I don't see any purpose in custom building any structure if it's an eyesore. I've never been a big enthusiast of industrial-looking buildings, or ultra-modern minimalism. Given the creative blank slate from which to start the ideas process, my taste is running anywhere from log cabin to understated prairie clapboard to shake-shingle New England to traditional Irish cottage or gatehouse to vine-covered rough-cut shiplap to stacked stone storybook Tudor.

Using my husband's preference as a guide, we'll be steering clear of two major things: Wood as a building material, and a steep-pitched roof.

1. No frame house or use of wood as primary building material.
J is from Florida and prefers a hot or warm climate. His health does much better in that environment, so we'll never choose to relocate to a really cold-weather climate. Were we to thrive in very cold weather, we'd likely put wood at the forefront as a building choice, since we both love its insulating and rugged qualities, especially in log homes. The craftsmanship can be SO lovely in a wood house!! But we are both from hot-weather climes, and in these parts wood spells upkeep and damage from insects and mold. In short, humidity rots it, peels the paint, and welcomes termites with a big neon sign. He is used to masonry and stucco construction, which makes for a very solid home, though every type construction has its concerns. But this is firmly set in our negotiations...if we have any choice in it, we'll choose a masonry or other non-wood construction. We both love stone or stucco, especially if nicely finished.

2. No steep-pitched roofs.
J prefers a 4/12 pitch rather than 6/12 or steeper for the simple reason that he himself will likely be making any repairs necessary in the future, and it's a safety precaution. Yes, that did cramp my personal preference for the steep and unusual rooflines that are so charming in storybook style houses, especially since I like houses that look like they're historically rooted rather than just a modern contractor's cookie cutter style. I was not convinced we could build something "pretty" with this pitch roof, but after having driven around the outlying areas, I do think we can pull it off. We are having to forgo my preference for tucking a half-storey with dormers under a steeper roofline, though. Since we're aiming for a house that serves us best rather our serving it, J gets his say-so in this area. I'm not the roofing repairwoman ;-)

Regarding the roofing material itself, we've eliminated concrete barrel-tile as an option. It's beautiful, and that's what we have right now. But for ease of replacement, repair, and walking around on the roof, we'll opt for either metal, steel (slate-look), or standard shingles. We're leaning toward's a traditional country material consistent with what's been used rurally for a long time, and installed correctly, can be charming.

There's a big difference in construction and design depending upon whether or not a person plans to build for later resale or not. Right now, with our limited finances and since we're not in our twenties or thirties any longer, we're hoping to build a small cottage customized to our needs, with expansion possibilities if necessary later. We've been researching the latest "smaller is better" movement, and there are some beautiful and innovative small houses entering the scene. We won't be building what's recently been coined a "tiny house," i.e. the smart and teensy structures with one room and a loft, but that concept was at the heart of our design when we began trying to find a floor plan that would best suit our needs and our pocketbook when the time comes to finally stake our claim on a homestead. There are SO many fascinating websites devoted to the trend (and wisdom) of building on a smaller scale! All it takes is a Google search for "small houses," "tiny houses," "cottage plans," and "storybook cottages." I've gotten happily lost googling those searches many times!

More details about the Little House in another post...soon :)

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